Health Tech News This Week – September 16, 2023

What happened in health care technology this week, and why it’s important.

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Google announces funding for AI-enabled digital health projects

Jessica Hagen’s article in MobiHealthNews kicks off the coverage this week. Google announced that it is funding 15 AI-powered projects, including digital health initiatives to improve provider experience and patient access to care, via its commitment to advancing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Fifteen projects, including eight digital health initiatives, received $3 million in cash, Google Cloud credits, and technical assistance. Of the 15 AI projects funded, the following eight digital health endeavors were awarded funding.

Why it’s important – Google has its own machine learning technology, dubbed Med-PaLM 2, aimed at improving healthcare information access. Med-PaLM 2 utilizes the tech company’s large language model to answer medical questions. In March, Med-PaLM 2 was tested on U.S. Medical Licensing Examination-style questions and performed at an “expert” test-taker level with 85%+ accuracy. It also received a passing score on the MedMCQA dataset, a multiple-choice dataset designed to address real-world medical entrance exam questions. One month later, Google announced it would make Med-PaLM 2 available to select Google Cloud customers to explore use cases, share feedback, and for limited testing. In July, a study performed by Google researchers and published in Nature revealed that Med-PaLM provided long-form answers aligned with the scientific consensus on 92.6% of questions submitted, which aligns with clinician-generated answers at 92.9%.

Best Buy Health and Geisinger expand work to improve chronic disease management at home

Building on the success of delivering in-home care for patients with chronic conditions through Geek Squad, Best Buy Health and Geisinger announced on September 12th that they will expand their work together to bring a better level of care to more patients within the Geisinger network. Beginning in July 2022, Best Buy Health and Geisinger began deploying specially trained Geek Squad Agents to deliver, install, and activate these remote care management devices in a program involving 300 Geisinger patients. While in the home, Agents educate patients on the technology in their care plan, answer questions about the devices, explain how to use them properly, and ensure they are transmitting data back to the patient’s care team. Agents also remain on standby to help troubleshoot as needed and collect and process all devices once the patient is discharged from the program by their care team.

Why it’s important – The results of the program so far have shown:

  • 50% reduction in the time from admission into the chronic care at home program to when device set up is completed, and the Geisinger care team can begin monitoring the patient remotely. This is a reduction from an average of 96 hours to 48 hours.
  • 19% improvement in how well patients follow their care plans by wearing and using their remote technology equipment more consistently.
  • 18% reduction in technical issues reported.
  • When needed, Geek Squad Agents were also able to replace devices in the home within 24 hours of being reported.
  • Patients had overwhelmingly positive feedback, driving a world-class NPS score of 89 when asked about their experience with Geek Squad visiting the home to get them set up on their chronic care at-home program.

First device to monitor transplanted organs detects early signs of rejection

Northwestern University researchers have developed the first electronic device for continuously monitoring the health of transplanted organs in real-time. Sitting directly on a transplanted kidney, the ultrathin, soft implant can detect temperature irregularities associated with inflammation and other body responses that arise with transplant rejection. Then, it alerts the patient or physician by wirelessly streaming data to a nearby smartphone or tablet. In a new study, the researchers tested the device on a small animal model with transplanted kidneys. They found the device detected warning signs of rejection up to three weeks earlier than current monitoring methods. The study is published in the journal Science. After the success of the small animal trial, the researchers are now testing the system in a larger animal model. Rogers and his team also are evaluating ways to recharge the coin cell battery so that it can last a lifetime.

Why it’s important – For the more than 250,000 people in the U.S. living with a transplanted kidney, monitoring their organ’s health is an ongoing journey. The easiest way to monitor kidney health is by measuring certain markers in the blood. By tracking the patient’s creatinine and blood urea nitrogen levels, physicians can gain insight into kidney function. But creatinine and blood urea nitrogen levels can fluctuate for reasons unrelated to organ rejection, so tracking these biomarkers is neither sensitive nor specific, sometimes leading to false negatives or positives. This extra time could enable physicians to intervene sooner, improving patient outcomes and well-being and increasing the odds of preserving donated organs, which are increasingly precious due to rising demand amid an organ shortage crisis.

South Korea begins nationwide telemedicine pilot

Starting this September, the South Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare will officially begin the nationwide telemedicine pilot following a three-month guided pilot period. Adam Ang covers the story in his article in Healthcare IT News. While legislators are still working on institutionalizing telemedicine, the MOHW launched the pilot program to continue providing citizens with an alternative option to access care. It was earlier reported that about 14 million Koreans received telemedicine care between February 2020 and January 2023.

Why it’s important – Telemedicine is once again not allowed in South Korea after the country temporarily allowed its conduct during the pandemic as part of its emergency response. In June, the government downgraded its public health alert, which meant the end of the temporary conduct of telemedicine after three years. Following this feedback, the MOHW will be reviewing and updating its guidelines. It plans to expand access to telemedicine for patients living in areas with fewer or no hospitals.

The impact of certificate of need laws on rural health care

Jaimie Cavanaugh and Daryl James authored this opinion piece on KevinMD. Regulators in 38 states and Washington, D.C., require this piece of paper before healthcare providers can move forward with projects in one or more categories. A study from their public interest law firm, the Institute for Justice, shows that New York requires a CON in six broad categories: hospital beds, beds outside hospitals, equipment, facilities, services, and emergency medical transport. Overall, New York has the most comprehensive and most intrusive CON laws in the nation. CON laws aim to lower healthcare spending by limiting redundancy and oversupply, which works great for industry insiders. Reduced competition gives them leverage over doctors, nurses, and patients, who get funneled to their facilities. However, government interference can backfire, especially in rural communities, where providers already struggle with poverty, staffing shortages, and other challenges.

Why it’s important – States with CON laws have 30 percent fewer rural hospitals, spend more per patient on Medicaid in rural areas, and have higher emergency room utilization rates in rural areas than other states. Five states without rural hospital CON laws—Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming—have had zero rural hospital closures since at least 2005, when the University of North Carolina started tracking the data. All the evidence points to the same conclusion: CON laws are a failed experiment that hurts rural communities the most. Decades of real-world experience support this finding.

All Eyes on Medical A.I.

Dr. Eric Topol posted a preprint review of the 84 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) in medical practice to date (through August 2023), which represents far more progress than has been generally appreciated. Whereas a few years ago, most of these had been conducted in China and were for the detection of polyps during endoscopy and colonoscopy procedures, there has been marked expansion to many other specialties worldwide.

Why it’s important – We’re still early in the era of LLMs. Unlike the randomized trials reviewed above, none have yet been conducted with LLMs for clinical outcomes. The compelling evidence to change medical practice is wanting. But the transformative potential remains extraordinary. They foreshadow the potentially far more expansive terrain for artificial intelligence (AI) to transform medicine. The big shift ahead is the ability to transcend narrow, unimodal tasks confined to images and broaden machine capabilities to include text and speech, encompassing all input modes, setting the foundation for multimodal AI.

YouTube video of the week – Mustafa Suleyman: The AI Pioneer Reveals the Future in ‘The Coming Wave’ | Intelligence Squared – Mustafa Suleyman is the ultimate AI insider. As co-founder of DeepMind and Inflection AI, he is one of the pioneers of the artificial intelligence revolution, potentially the single greatest accelerant of progress in history. Investors in Inflection AI include the likes of Microsoft, Nvidia and Bill Gates. Suleyman says AI represents nothing less than a step change in human capability and human society, introducing both risks and innovations on an awesome scale. This is what is coming.

YouTube video credit: Intelligence Squared, 9/16/2023

Security News This Week: You Need to Update Your Browser, Like, Yesterday

Wired’s Andrew Couts sounds the alarm in his recent article. Unless you updated your browser in the past few days, it likely contains a critical flaw. The recently disclosed vulnerability exists in the WebP code library known as libwebp, which encodes and decodes images in the widely used WebP format. Known generally as a “heap buffer overflow,” the flaw can be exploited using a specially crafted malicious image, allowing an attacker to run malicious code on a targeted device. Google says the bug has already been exploited in the wild. Initially identified early this week as a zero-day vulnerability in Google’s Chrome browser, the libwebp bug impacts browsers built using Chromium, which means Chrome, Mozilla’s Firefox, Microsoft Edge, Opera, Brave, and more. It also affects apps like Telegram, 1Password, Thunderbird, and Gimp. Patches for the flaw are rolling out now, so keep your eyes peeled for updates.

Why it’s important – The implications for health care are enormous. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services keeps track of cyberattacks and breaches at healthcare providers. In 2021, there were 618 breaches and attacks affecting at least 500 people, according to the department. Last fall, federal authorities issued a warning that cyber attackers backed by the Iranian government were targeting critical infrastructure, including the healthcare industry. In August of this year, a cyberattack disrupted hospital computer systems in several U.S. states, forcing some emergency rooms to close and ambulances to be diverted, and many primary care services remained closed as security experts worked to determine the extent of the problem and resolve it. It’s imperative for enterprises to allocate a special budget to invest in cybersecurity solutions to protect patient and customer data. By integrating automation, your team can save time and focus on providing valuable applications and updates to your patients.

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